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From the Home Front: Garden Walk continues to play a key role in Buffalo’s renaissance

Longtime Garden Walk Buffalo participant John M. Hochadel recalls the year a couple came by and asked if they could photograph their little girl in the front garden by the black-eyed Susans.

She wore a yellow sundress and was totally darling as the couple tried to pose her perfectly in front of the vibrant flowers.

“We told them to take their time,” Hochadel said.

Such interactions are not unusual during Garden Walk Buffalo – and other garden walks and tours throughout the region.

Tens of thousands of visitors turn out for Garden Walk Buffalo, which is held the last weekend in July. They leave impressed and inspired by both the gardens and the people who proudly tend them.

Recently, one visitor made headlines: Jeffrey Gundlach, the Western New York native and billionaire investment manager who contributed $42.5 million to Albright-Knox Art Gallery’s expansion project. Gundlach, who lives in Los Angeles, toured some of the gardens in 2015.

Here is what he told News Arts Critic Colin Dabkowski: “I was there a year ago for a visit, and there was that Garden Walk they have in the downtown area, where people open up their backyards and their beautiful gardens and you get a chance to walk through those neighborhoods and see how these once nearly dilapidated homes now have all kinds of pride,” Gundlach said. “This was all going on, and I found out there was this capital campaign. And I thought, this is something that would make a difference.”

Not surprisingly, Garden Walk Buffalo participants were thrilled that their annual event helped inspire Gundlach.

“I was blown away. When I first saw the article, it brought tears to my eyes. I sent an email off to all the Garden Walk Buffalo volunteers with a link to the article,” Jim Charlier, president emeritus of Garden Walk Buffalo, told me Monday morning in a story posted on The News’ website.

“This is huge for us because now when we go out soliciting sponsorships, donors and volunteers – along with beautifying neighborhoods and changing people’s perceptions of Buffalo – we have this claim that we directly contributed to Buffalo’s renaissance,” said Charlier, who now serves as vice president of Gardens Buffalo Niagara, the organization that runs Garden Walk Buffalo and other garden events.

“We’ve been making that claim for 20 years, but this made it in a big way,” he said.

Garden Walk Buffalo, called the largest garden tour in America, is a free tour that takes place the last full weekend in July. Since the first tour in 1995, it has grown to include more than 400 gardens in several communities within the city’s limit. The Walk has attracted national and international garden and travel writers, and some of the gardens have been featured in national publications.

“For us, the civic pride began 23 years ago when Marvin Lunenfeld and his wife, Gail McCarthy, started planning the first garden tour. That’s when the seed was planted,” Charlier said.

Since my chat with Charlier, I’ve reached out to other Garden Walk Buffalo participants about the people they have met.

Ellen Goldstein and her husband, Mitch Flynn, have greeted people from all over the country who stop by to enjoy their perennial gardens, window boxes and container plantings as well as unique sculptures – one of which is a vertical piece constructed from 16 bowling balls. And then there’s the lemonade they serve from a dispenser to anyone who needs a little refreshment ...

Their home was on both Garden Walk Buffalo and the Open Gardens tours. Goldstein recalled how a garden writer from Pennsylvania not only came to see their gardens – but brought along a busload of people.

“I was kind of flabbergasted,” she said.

Hochadel, too, enjoys welcoming visitors to the landscaped home he shares with Jeff Tooke, president of Gardens Buffalo Niagara. “This year for some reason we had a lot of people sit on the benches in the backyard and stay there for about 20 minutes,” Hochadel said. “We were like ‘Where did those people go?’ ”

When they finally reappeared, “they said, ‘We just figured we could sit down for a little while.’ And they did,” he laughed, pleased the visitors felt right at home.

email: smartin@buffnews.com

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